by Arianna Caracciolo
MONACO. On 22 June 2018 the eleventh Award Ceremony of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the exclusive screening of Luc Hardy’s expedition movie, “Arktika Incognita” will take place at the Grimaldi Forum. Ten years ago, two years after its creation in 2006, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation made a decision to pay tribute each year, through the presentation of awards, to leading figures for their commitment and their support in protecting our planet. At the Eleventh Prince Albert II Foundation Awards Ceremony HSH the Sovereign Prince will honour a number of leading figures and international organisations for their exemplary actions on behalf of the environment and the preservation of the planet, in each of his Foundation’s three priority fields of action: the fight against the effects of climate change, the preservation of biodiversity, and thirdly, access to water and the fight against desertification. The World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) is observed every year to promote public awareness of international efforts to combat desertification. The day is a unique moment to remind everyone that land degradation neutrality (LDN) is achievable through problem solving, strong community involvement and co-operation at all levels.
To promote public awareness of land degradation and to draw attention to the implementation of the UNCCD in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa, the United Nations General Assembly declared 17 June to be “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought” (WDCD) in 1994. Since this decision, WDCD has been celebrated on 17 June each year. Many invested organizations celebrate and observe WDCD by organizing a large variety of outreach activities and awareness raising events. To further increase the impact of WDCD, the UNCCD Secretariat invites Country Parties to the Convention, United Nation’s organizations, civil society organizations, international and non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to draw attention to land issues and educate the public about effective methods of achieving LDN on 17 June each year. Desertification is the result of a cycle of land degradation, turning once fertile soils into sterile land as a consequence of over-exploitation by intensive farming, forest exploitation for fuel and timber, and overgrazing. Thus, desertification does not refer specifically to desert areas, nor to arid lands but to the consequences of over-use of the Earth’s resources. From the food we eat, to the clothes we wear and the houses we live – it all stems from land resources. Desertification is a global phenomenon, affecting the livelihoods of 900 million people across the five continents and representing a third of worldwide threats to biodiversity. It requires global attention.
This year’s World Day to Combat Desertification advocates for the importance of inclusive cooperation to restore and rehabilitate degraded land and contribute towards achieving the overall Sustainable Development Goals, which include a target to achieve a land degradation‐neutral world by 2030. Drought, a com plex and slowly encroaching natural hazard with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is known to cause more deaths and displace more people than any other natural disaster. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and 2/3 of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions. By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 per cent. As populations increase, especially in dryland areas, more and more people are becoming dependent on fresh water supplies in land that are becoming degraded. Water scarcity is one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century. The Global Risks report published by World Economic Form ranks ‘water crisis’ the top risk in the coming decade and it has a place in the Sustainable Development Goals where a specific goal has been dedicated to water.
Drought and water scarcity are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant secondary and tertiary impacts. To mitigate these impacts, drought preparedness that responds to human needs, while preserving environmental quality and ecosystems, requires involvement of all stakeholders including water users and water providers to achieve solutions for drought. Action on mitigating the effects of drought should be implemented considering comprehensive drought early warning and monitoring systems, vulnerability and risk assessment, upstream-downstream water uses, the link between water and land use; livelihood diversification strategies for drought affected people, etc. For example, addressing land degradation upstream improves access to water on site and downstream.
Restoring land and extensive water harvesting raises ground water levels and increases crop yields and the fauna of the region changes (Example: recent evidences from Ethiopia and Niger). To tackle drought in a more sustainable way, a strengthened link between land and water conservation measures is a prerequisite. The health of land is critical in the search for sustainable solutions to water resource provision and management. Countries should develop national drought policies based on the principles of risk reduction should consider strengthening monitoring and early warning systems, drought vulnerability assessment and risk mitigation measures. It is essential for countries to be proactive (rather than reactive); be coordinated at regional level (in addition to the country level actions); holistic and multi-sectoral (rather than silos) and to treat drought as a ‘constant risk’ (rather than a ‘crisis’). The UNCCD secretariat aims to implement the Initiative in the biennium 2018−2019 by taking action on national drought preparedness plans; regional efforts to reduce drought vulnerability and risk, and a toolbox to boost the resilience of people and ecosystems to drought. By being prepared and acting early, people and communities can develop resilience against drought and minimize its risks. UNCCD experts can help country Parties review or validate existing drought measures and prepare a national drought plan to put all the pieces together, identify gaps and ensure that necessary steps are taken as soon as the possibility of drought is signaled by meteorological services. It is envisaged that such a plan would be endorsed and eventual action triggered at the highest political level.
The UNCCD supports countries by advocating for three important pillars. Early Warning Systems: Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought it can often be very subjective and highly political. Early Warning System (EWS) would guide affected countries by providing timely information that they can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response. Vulnerability and risk assessment: No amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable. Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. It is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain, and turn that knowledge into early intervention. Drought risk mitigation measures: Proactive drought risk management could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people. For example, the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes could boost the recycling and reuse of water, explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish of alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.
The Conferences of the Parties to each of the Rio Conventions – namely the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – have underlined through numerous decisions the need for enhanced collaboration in order to harness synergies, enhance coordination and increase the effectiveness of operations. However, the existing technical assistance facilities are sector-specific and do not leverage the synergies between land, climate and biodiversity.
The international community and donors have pledged a number of funding commitments such as the enhanced climate financing to address some of the interconnected issues. A place of honour as a donor and a committed activist goes to the Oscar-winning actor Leonardo Di Caprio. Actually, Leonardo Di Caprio’s international reputation and his commitment make him a true ambassador also regarding the Drought Combat. Thanks to numerous partnerships, his Foundation supports innovative projects to prevent the extinction of a fragile and turbulent nature, protecting the threatened ecosystems. The heavyweight actor is heavily involved in committees of environmental organizations. Among his many awards and recognitions, the actor received by HSH Albert II of Monaco the Mediation Division Award for his “commitment to sustainable development and against global warming.” Created by Prince Albert II in 2014 to honour his great-great father HSH Prince Albert I, a noted marine scientist and founder of the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco at the end of the XIX century, the “Grande Medaille Albert I, Section Mediation” aims to raise awareness and highlights the commitment of public figures, men and women who with great generosity and philanthropic spirit give of their time and money to protect the environment and more specifically the Oceans.
Recently, National Geographic’s “Before the Flood”, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Fisher Stevens, has reached more than 60 million people worldwide and surpassed a record-setting one billion minutes viewed across linear, digital, streaming and social platforms — making it arguably one of the most watched documentaries in history and the most watched NatGeo film ever. Beyond the impressive numbers, “Before The Flood” was also made available for free to more than 50,000 college students with campus screenings across the U.S., and more than 1,500 requests have been fulfilled from colleges, religious institutions and other organizations for private screening events around the world. National Geographic and the film’s creators are proud to bring the issue of climate change to the forefront of the global conversation and hope to inspire viewers to take action. In the documentary, DiCaprio is seen traveling all over the world, speaking in front of the U.N. about environmental issues and meeting with influential people like Pope Francis, President Barack Obama and Elon Musk about the importance of protecting the planet for future generation.